When Allen Robinson signed a three-year, $42 million contract with the Bears in 2018, it made sense for both sides. The Bears were signing a receiver coming off a torn ACL, while Robinson knew he could hit free agency again in 2021 at age 27.
Since then, Robinson has done nothing but produce while becoming an important leader in the locker room. That’s why it’s been largely assumed all offseason that Robinson will be awarded with an extension from the Bears before the 2020 season begins.
That may still be the case, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the NFL’s economic landscape – at least in the short term – and it could impact Robinson.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace has made a habit of rewarding his own players with extensions in late August/early September once the roster construction is all but done. It gives the team a more complete picture of the roster, future salary projections, additional player evaluation from training camp/preseason, and yes, some risk aversion from injuries that can happen in August. Eddie Goldman, Charles Leno Jr. and Cody Whitehair are all players who recently benefitted from contract extensions right before the regular season and many signs point to Robinson being next on that list.
The potential problem for Robinson is that NFL organizations are protecting themselves from several unknown variables due to coronavirus. There’s almost certainly going to be some type of revenue drop in 2020 if fans are not allowed to attend games and that could result in the salary cap staying flat or even dropping in 2021. Teams always project and estimate future cap space, but the NFL’s salary cap has risen by at least $10 million for seven years in a row and no capologist could have accounted for a season without fans.
“As far as my contract, I don't think that has any effect on it nor do I have a concern of that having an effect on it,” Robinson said Wednesday. “For me, at this point in time, I'm not too concerned with that. If something gets done, something gets done. But at the end of the day, that's left up to the Bears and my agent.”
But an NFL.com report this week already suggested that owners could ask for short term relief from players’ base salaries this year. That may sound ridiculous because of all the revenue the NFL is expected to generate from new television contracts in 2022, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be short term cash flow issues.
“I've been listening to my sister who actually works in baseball and seeing what baseball is going through with their contracts in this part of the season and I don't think that for us as a whole in the NFL will go through anything like that,” Robinson said.
Ashley Robinson works for the Detroit Tigers, who have so far guaranteed their employees full salaries with no furloughs. Not all baseball teams have been able to do that and the players and owners are currently in tense negotiations with the 2020 season in doubt. The NFL shouldn’t have the same problems because they have a revenue sharing plan and a brand-new CBA that was ratified in March, but one issue for NFL players is that their salaries are not guaranteed. So if the NFLPA doesn’t agree to some type of cut to base salaries, players with non-guaranteed money left on their contracts could be cut altogether. The NFLPA doesn’t want to see jobs lost.
None of this means Robinson won’t receive an extension before the 2020 season, but right now contracts have largely been put on hold across the NFL. We know both sides would like to get a deal done and one possible solution would be for Robinson’s contract to be structured to lower the blow in 2021. No matter how the pandemic impacts gate revenue in 2020, the new television contracts are still coming and the salary cap should theoretically rebound in 2022.
Still, the unknowns make NFL business tougher than usual right now. Robinson doesn’t seem too concerned and maybe he shouldn’t be.
“I'm just looking forward to this 2020 season. I'm definitely excited for it. I'm definitely ready to get it going,” Robinson said. “Whatever happens, it happens.”
The guess here is that a deal eventually gets done. Just not anytime soon.